Thursday, January 03, 2013

On and Off the Derech

Guest Post by Samuel Love

'Path of the Righteous' author Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (The Ramchal)
I received the following e-mail from a reader, yesterday. The content of his letter speaks for itself… and it speaks volumes. No further commentary from me is necessary except to say that one letter like this both humbles me – and makes my entire effort here worthwhile.

I have been reading your blog for a while now and I wanted to make a comment about your recent post.

I am originally from Winnipeg, where Yiddishkeit is practically absent.  After reading that you were at Conclave, I gather you saw the 8 member Winnipeg NCSY Chapter, minus R' Martin, who passed away last summer.  I am hoping to get a bigger NCSY Chapter going in Winnipeg, but that is another story.

I grew up in an extremely dysfunctional family.  I was secular until I went to a Shabbaton at Chabad when I was 13 and became fanatically Frum.  This was followed by a few years of NCSY, followed by 1 year in Yeshiva before I returned to Winnipeg.  I am completely secular, for now.  My heart is in the right place, but I can't get the rest of me to join it.

There were a few things that caused my laps in observance.  NCSY was not one of them.  NCSY actually infused me with a pride for Yiddishkeit in a healthy and non forceful environment.  This was what NCSY was for me, and anyone who tells you otherwise has obviously not been involved with NCSY.  My years in NCSY were the best years of my life, and I wish I could have stayed there, but I am 30 now and too old to go back.

So what caused me to go OTD?

Probably my biggest issue was that I was young, influential and wanted to do the right thing.  Chabad pushed me to a point where I became so Frum that I lost myself.  I lost my family, I lost my secular friends and I went overboard and became one with Chabad.  It got to the point where I did things, not because I wanted to do them, but because Chabad wanted me to do them.  I was completely brainwashed and got to the point where I was living the life of a Lubavitcher and not the life of myself.  The pressure to conform was too much, and I gave in, losing myself in the process.  Judaism, for me, was a loss.  Why would I want that?

Another issue was that when I came back from Yeshiva, I had no community.  Try as I may, I could not keep in touch with any of my Rebeiim from Yeshiva or anyone from NCSY in Winnipeg or elsewhere.  All of my NCSY friends in WInnipeg had gone OTD or moved away and I was left with no one.  If this is what Judaism is about, why would I want Judaism?  This is a huge problem in Winnipeg.

Another problem that I had was with Chabad.  They kept pressuring me to go back to Yeshiva.  I kept responding that I needed a parnassah.  Their response was that Hashem will help, so trust in Hashem and spend the rest of your life in Yeshiva and don't worry about a parnassah.  I did not listen to them.  They apparently took my refusal to their advice as personal and we basically parted ways.  If Judiasm is all about belief, all about learning Torah full time and all about trusting in Hashem rather than taking action, why would I want Judaism?

The Yeshiva that I went to was Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem.  There I was introduced to a whole slew of politics in the Frum world, such as black hats, jackets for daveing and Kollel versus a real job.  If Judiasm is based on outward appearance rather than inward beliefs, intentions and actions, why do I need that? Hashem can't be fooled.

I remember a chat I had with one bochur in Yeshiva back then who was trying to convince me to wear a black hat.  I asked him why I should wear I black hat?  He responded that the Chofetz Chaim wore a black hat and we should emulate Tzaddikim and wear black hats.  That night was Motzai Shabbos and after davening, he took his black hat off and went to a nightclub.  Does Hashem judge every action (such as going to night clubs) favorably, as long as one wears a black hat and suit jacket for davening?

I really am torn.  On the one hand, I have the great memories of NCSY and the miserable memories of basically everyone else, so why go back?

One reason to go back is based on several of your posts.  Your intention is obviously not to bad mouth Orthodox Jews, but you have written about many problems in the Frum community that I am aware of and can relate to.  I wish that these problems did not have to happen, but they have happened and they are happening.  I find it comforting that you bring to light issues that everyone else wants to pretend not exist.  The fact is that the Frum world is far from perfect, and the first step to improving it is to acknowledge the issues that are occurring.  Thank you for taking this crucial first step.

I also find it inspiring to read Messilas Yesharim.  There is one section at the very end that I keep going back to where the Ramchal discusses parnassah:  "One who, out of necessity, plies a humble trade, can be a true Saint, just as one from whose mouth learning never departs."  Ultimately, Judaism is not about about the way one looks , nor is it about whether or not one wears a hat or jacket, goes to Shul twice a day, learns in Kollel full time, or is Satmar, Skvere, Chabad, MO, Yeshivish, or any other other label known to mankind.  It is about serving Hashem to the best of our abilities, regardless of what others say or think.

Ultimately, my problem with Judaism comes down to people who act or tell others to a act a certain was in order to be Frum, versus, what Judaism really is about.  It is not about pretending to be someone.  It is about being someone, and I think it is safe to say that the Ramchal trumps any of today's leaders who think they know better.  I just wish that Hashem would have a place in Judaism (as is the case with NCSY), and needles politics, personal disputes and superficial issues would cease to exist.

Thank you for taking the first step of acknowledging these issues.